Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Jill MacLean

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Jill MacLean (photo credit: Sue MacLeod)

Jill MacLean burst onto the YA and children's writing scene from her very first title and has been honoured with an Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading nomination for every one of her books. Her most recent title is Nix Minus One (Pajama Press), which features introverted Nix, who takes refuge from the confusing world of family and school in his father's workshop, where he builds things that make sense to him.

Today Jill braves the Dirty Dozen, our interview series that asks writers to share twelve unexpected facts about themselves. From blackflies in heaven to the letters in her characters' names, Jill talks to us about her bucket list, her fears and her most exciting moments.

  1. The best trip I ever took was to the High Arctic in the late nineties.On Devon Island we followed a herd of muskoxen, their dark coats blowing in the wind, their prehistoric foreheads. Arctic terns, who’d flown all the way from Antarctica, were nesting on orange and black lichen. Blue harebells, pale yellow poppies.
    We camped on Ellesmere Island at an abandoned RCMP post. A neat blue-and-white outhouse with HQ painted on the door. Greenland 25 kilometers across the strait. Ivory-tusked sea walruses stinking of fish, basking on ice floes in the soft light of midnight.
    In our Twin Otter, we landed on Beechey Island near the grave markers of three of the Franklin expedition. Nothing to be seen but rock, sea, ice, empty sky.
    And, of course, as this is called The Dirty Dozen, no hot showers. No showers, period, hot or cold.
  2. My bucket list?
    Drive around Iceland on their volcanic-black roads. See the blue Himalayan poppies at Les Jardins de Métis in Quebec. Bicycle the northern coast of the Netherlands. Nourish an open mind. Shove myself — frequently — outside my comfort zone. Fight for that most endangered of species, silence.
  3. Miraculously — without a single drop of blood, sweat, or tears — I want to be transposed to the realms of the computer-savvy, the Facebook-friendly, the blithe bloggers and carefree Tweeters. I know. Anyone under twenty…what’s your problem?
  4. When I’m reading, I like it when one book leads to another…to follow the tracks in the forest. I’m not, in consequence, very good at being told what I should read (just ask my YA Reading Group). I suspect that I also write this way: one book leads to the next. A minor character raises her head in the book about Travis, so I write about Prinny. Hud, from the first two books, tugs me toward Brick, and Brick to Nix….
  5. I’m nearly 72. Ancient. Ancient. How did this happen? What age am I internally? Eleven, like Travis? Fifteen-going-on-sixteen, like Nix? What books do I want to write while I can still flex the muscles of words?
  6. Wisdom is supposedly the territory of the elders. The older I get, the less I know for sure, the more complexity (especially moral complexity) I see in everything, and the more my tongue trips over itself when I try to verbalize anything in the way of a conviction.
    Am I a writer so that I can rethink, research, rephrase?
    Or don’t I like accepting anything at face value, and in consequence became a writer?
  7. Am I a question mark?
    Are you?
  8. I’m so darn serious. Arghh. I’d like to be like Vicki Grant, or Don Aker, or Sue Goyette, or Donna Morrissey, all of whom can dissolve a room into laughter.
  9. I’m also an off-the-charts introvert (just like Nix). Facing a classroom of kids? I did mention being pushed outside my comfort zone. But don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some heart-warming experiences in classrooms; and I think a good teacher should be paid as much as an NHL goalie. Maybe more.
  10. To be in my Mad River canoe, solo, at dawn in June, mist rising from the lake, slivers of birdsong from the islands, not a breath of wind…that’s as near as I’m likely to get to heaven. Oh yeah. No blackflies. Any version of heaven that I want to enter does not permit blackflies.
  11. A few of my most exciting moments?
    The births of my children, then, years later, seeing my grandson for the first time, aged sixteen hours.
    Hiking with a friend in Kejimkujik Park and coming across a big pile of steaming bear scat. Is the bear in front of us? Or has it sneaked behind us?
    Receiving the Ann Connor Brimer Award for my first children’s book; standing on the stage at Harbourfront in Toronto confronted by a thousand screaming kids at the Silver Birch awards.
    Watching light stream through the medieval stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral so that the dark stone walls shimmer like jewels.
    Standing outside the Royal Bank on a blue plastic milk carton at Word on the Street, armed with a mike, reading my poems aloud for the first time — an experience that passed beyond excitement to sheer terror.
  12. I realized one day that all my main characters have an “i” in their names: Travis, Prinny, Brick, Nix, Sigrid. Impossible, surely, to write anything totally omitting that “I.”
    Which leads me to the last of the twelve. How about the things I don’t know about myself, and in consequence can’t tell you?
    Unless you’ve already guessed.
    When you publish a book — haven’t you undressed in public, disclosing to anyone who reads the book your obsessions, hang-ups, and yearnings?


Jill MacLean began writing for children later in life and she has quickly made her mark. Among her many awards and honours are an Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading nomination for every one of her titles and an Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature for both The Nine Lives of Travis Keating and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy; the latter was also shortlisted for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award. Born in Berkshire, England, Jill has been smitten with Atlantic Canada since she moved there at the age of nine. Today she lives in Bedford, Nova Scotia, and divides her time between writing novels, giving school presentations, and pursuing her love of nature.

For more information about Nix Minus One please visit the Pajama Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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